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Tag Archives | information

Why the new Geospatial Information Bill, 2016 is a death knell for start-ups?

The draft Geospatial Information Regulation (GIR) Bill 2016 recently introduced by the government is complete bad news for Start-up ecosystem and will lead to a license-quota-permit raj 

The government of India, ministry of home affairs recently released a draft bill on geospatial information regulation and invited comments from the public. The reason given by the government is that Pathankot attack in January was due to the precise location being known by the terrorists and that the bill addresses the question of national security. The bill recommends a fine up to Rs. 100 crore and a jail term up to seven years if the map of India is depicted wrongly.

Governments have every right to frame laws to safeguard and enhance national security. The bill has been on the agenda of the Indian government since 2012. The main concern of the government seemed to be Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft etc. According to the draft bill, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, publishing, disseminating, or distributing any geospatial information about India. It also specifically states that the government will set up a Security Vetting Authority (SVA) in a time bound manner. Where the bill gets it wrong is creating a negative atmosphere and unnecessary roadblocks for start ups.

Amitabh Bagchi, a professor at IIT Delhi, says that companies like Google and Microsoft are at the lowest end of an application stack that may consist of several layers.  Multi billion dollar companies like these get the information available through the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In December 2014, the Survey of India, the central government’s nodal agency for maps reported that map of India is wrongly depicted by Google in its websites like google.co.in, ditu.google.co.ch (China), google.pk (Pakistan) and google.org (general).

The ones who are likely suffer the most are Start-ups that heavily depend on geolocation services. Companies like Zomato, Swiggy, zop now, gropeher etc have their successes pinned on to the location. In addition, Bangalore based start ups like MapUnity and Latlong that create apps for businesses are genuinely afraid that it will kill them. Big companies like Ola and Uber do not get affected that much. They are big enough to tide over crises. It is the small companies that have every reason to be apprehensive. The timeline for government approval could be up to three months, a luxury which cannot just be afforded by the start ups. Therefore they have come up with a website titled Savethemap.in that informs the user about the bill in the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. A good public policy is one in which all stakeholders are consulted rigorously and their concerns addressed.

Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Geomap by Caulier Gilles licensed from Creativecommons.org


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Making information handy for the smart citizens

Indian regulation needs to accommodate information aggregators to help create smart citizens. 

Recently cab aggregator ZipGo suspended its operations in Bangalore after facing trouble with the  the Karnataka State Transport Department. One of the major reason for the tension between the start-up and the state is the the Karnataka Motor Vehicle Rules of 1989. As per the Rules, there is no provision for ZipGo to operate services that directly compete with the state-run city bus service under. This is just one of the many examples where the information aggregating services in India have faced trouble while dealing with Indian regulation.

Information aggregators are entities that collect information from a wide range of web sources and other sources, with or without prior arrangements, and add value by providing post-aggregation services. Common example being Uber, a cab aggregation service that helps the demand for cab services meet the supply. By reducing the information symmetry between the customer and cab driver, Uber reduces the search time spent by both the parties. The ease in looking for the customers helps in increasing the number of rides the cab drivers can provide in a day.

Uber is just one of the examples of the varied aggregating services provided across sectors. For instance, Buildkar and Swiggy provide the same service for building construction and food deliveries respectively.  As we look forward to using Information and Communication Technology to make cities smarter, it is vital that enough platforms are provided for the citizens to be able to utilise the resources around them in the best possible form. One of the ways to utilise the resources better can be by reducing the transaction cost faced by the citizens.

Transaction cost refers to the cost other than the money price incurred during an economic exchange. For instance, standing in a queue to get movie tickets is a transaction cost. However, this cost is reduced by online ticket bookings. The time saved provides more leisure time for the citizens and helps them in being more productive and efficient.

In his paper, Jiangxia Hu has listed six benefits of an aggregator: increased diversity of information, broader service availability, reduced searching cost, comparison between alternative choices, better customised to user wants and needs, and reduced transaction time. For instance, Uber the cab aggregator app does not only provide the information about availability of the cabs but also about the driver once the cab is booked. It also provides a wide range of option to choose between the type of vehicle the customer wants to choose. These features of a aggregator makes them more efficient and better equipped to serve the citizens in the technology age.

Keeping in mind the benefits and the increasing reliance on the aggregating services, it is important that Indian regulation accommodates these new platforms. Being the regulator, it is imperative that the government looks at the safety and basic quality standards of these aggregating services. That said, keeping regulations to the minimum will help these services to grow organically though network effect. Blocking or constraining the growth of such services will either harm the market or lead to the growth of illegal platforms providing similar services.

Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

Image source: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Flickr

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